La Porte group follows Michigan City’s lead in opening homeless program

 

Male guests prepare for bed in the Interfaith Community Public Action Providing Shelter (PADS) in Michigan City.

Photos and story by WNLP’s Bob Wellinski

Sarah Quartuccio personally knows the sad reality of homelessness and the effect it can have on those who call the streets home.

PADS volunteers Erica Morse and Jessica Hoffmaster along with Harrison Holtkamp, PADS executive director, clean the kitchen after serving a meal at the Michigan City PADS.  

“I had somebody in my family who was homeless. He slept on the streets and was eventually found deceased after a winter storm. I know the impact it can have on a family,” said Quartuccio, a parishioner at St. Mary the Immaculate Conception in Michigan City.

With the cold winter months beginning, Quartuccio, 35, is one of many volunteers stepping up to help at multi-faith homeless centers, including one that recently opened in La Porte County. The former Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Michigan City now has new life and continues its ministry in serving the community.

The parish celebrated its final Mass on Easter Sunday, 2019. The building was then purchased by Interfaith Community’s Public Action to Provide Shelter (PADS) later that year.

Following a nearly year-long, $300,000 renovation, the former church is now a permanent home to the PADS program. The permanent site allows volunteers to serve the needs of the homeless – both men and women – year round, according to Harrison Holtkamp, PADS executive director. Previously, PADS in Michigan City was just a seasonal shelter.

Harrison Holtkamp, PADS executive director (right), takes the temperature of a volunteer at the Michigan City PADS. The homeless center now operates year round after remodeling of the former Sacred Heart Church building.

“It makes it nice to be at one location. People aren’t getting lost trying to figure out what church we’re at. Plus, the bus stop is right across the street,” Holtkamp said.

This is the 19th year for the men’s program and the third year for women. Holtkamp estimates that PADS has 170-200 guests a year. Men stay on the main floor and women stay in the lower section.

The Michigan City renovation was the result of a successful fundraising effort, during which Holtkamp expressed gratitude toward all contributors, including the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte, Arconic Foundation, Barker Welfare Foundation, Unity Foundation, and many other private and public donors.

Phase 1 of the renovation is nearly complete. Holtkamp said this phase includes a fire suppression system; dumbwaiter; update of old kitchen into newer commercial kitchen; walk-in freezer; new bathrooms with showers upstairs and down; and making the facility handicapped accessible by widening the lower-level stairwell and adding a chairlift and laundry equipment.

“The building is continuing the mission of what it started doing. It’s always had an outreach in the community, and we’re continuing that mission,” said Holtkamp.

With its success in serving the homeless, the Michigan City Interfaith Community PADS has served as an example for other communities to start their own interfaith PADS program, including the City of La Porte.

Rev. Joe Kotulski of La Porte’s Liberty Bible Church said it was time for action after he witnessed something shocking outside the church in which he was speaking.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw: an actual person who was living outside the walls of this building. Literally sleeping with their back against the brick outside in the bitter cold,” Kotulski said.

Kotulski and Center Township Trustee Lisa Pierzakowski were determined to make sure a shelter was available.

The same wall of Christ Church in downtown La Porte where Kotulski saw the homeless man is now the La Porte PADS temporary home for the second year.

“As Center Township trustee, I see the homeless coming into my office all the time, and this will help me give them a roof over their head until I can get them to the next level. It breaks my heart, but this way they have a warm bed and a hot meal,” said Pierzakowski.

“PADS is a platform for them to leap to the next great level in their lives.”

Holtkamp, Pierzakowski and Kotulski said PADS assists guests through various programs to help get them back on their feet. Some of the programs are: helping the guests get their GED or take college classes, helping them battle substance abuse, budgeting, and cooking classes.

One new La Porte PADS program is the addition of mentors. Pierzakowski explained a guest will be paired with a person with “heart, passion and time, and is willing to help our guests by walking alongside them during their journey.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the PADS program, resulting in guests being tested prior to being admitted. Other safety measures include temperatures taken at the door, wearing masks, hand sanitizer, hourly cleaning and sterilizing the facility every day. Guests who test positive are sent to a safe recovery site in Valparaiso to quarantine until they’re clear of the virus.

“We cannot not help people just because they might be sick. If you look at the examples of Christians throughout the ages, they were the ones who ran toward the sick and hurting people. That’s what we should be known for,” said Kotulski.

Holtkamp, Pierzakowski and Kotulski stress that volunteers from community churches, businesses and the public are the heart of the PADS program and its success.

“Volunteers are vital. I think we all get something out of it – the guests, the volunteers,” said Holtkamp.

Quartuccio agreed. 

“It’s something that I never really thought I would do. Now that I’ve been volunteering since June, I’m glad that I am doing it,” Quartuccio said. She hopes more volunteers join in.

Quartuccio believes a shelter would have saved the life of her family member in 2009. “I really think it would have helped him get the help he needed,” she said.

One guest, who asked to remain anonymous, credits the PADS program for potentially saving his life. He explained how he lost everything and was living out of his car in the middle of winter when someone suggested PADS.

“Everyone was so fabulous. It struck me how all these wonderful people volunteered their time. I’m sure they saved my life.”

Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to contact the Michigan City PADS at 276-7582 or interfaithcommunitypads.in/ifcpwpr48; or the La Porte PADS at  362-2736 or www.bit.ly/lppads2020.

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